Tuesday, August 2
Even banana republics now able to monitor "everyone." Snowden did warn us.
Let us give a cheer for The Associated Press. Make that three cheers. AP is creating a high standard for investigative reportage with a global reach. Take a look at the size of the team it took to create this report.
August 2, 2016
The Associated Press
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak reported this story in Lima and AP writer Jack Gillum reported from Washington. AP writers Maria Danilova in Washington; Josef Federman in Jerusalem; Jason Patinkin in Juba, South Sudan; Tony Fraser in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.
LIMA, Peru – It was a national scandal. Peru's then-vice president accused two domestic intelligence agents of staking her out. Then, a top congressman blamed the spy agency for a break-in at his office. News stories showed the agency had collected data on hundreds of influential Peruvians.
Yet after last year's outrage, which forced out the prime minister and froze its intelligence-gathering, the spy service went ahead with a $22 million program capable of snooping on thousands of Peruvians at a time. Peru — a top cocaine-producing nation — joined the ranks of world governments that have added commercial spyware to their arsenals.
The purchase from Israeli-American company Verint Systems, chronicled in documents obtained by The Associated Press, offers a rare, behind-the-scenes look into how easy it is for a country to purchase and install off-the-shelf surveillance equipment. The software allows governments to intercept voice calls, text messages and emails.
Except for blacklisted nations like Syria and North Korea, there is little to stop governments that routinely violate basic rights from obtaining the same so-called "lawful intercept" tools that have been sold to Western police and spy agencies. People tracked by the technology have been beaten, jailed and tortured, according to human rights groups.
Targets identified by the AP include a blogger in the repressive Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, opposition activists in the war-ravaged African nation of South Sudan, and politicians and reporters in oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.
"The status quo is completely unacceptable," said Marietje Schaake, a European Union lawmaker pushing for greater oversight. "The fact that this market is almost completely unregulated is very disturbing."
The Verint documents that AP obtained in Peru, including training manuals, contracts, invoices and emails, offer more detail than previously available on the inner workings of a highly secretive industry.
"There is just so little reliable data on this," said Edin Omanovic, a researcher at Privacy International, a London-based advocacy group. "These commercial tools are being used in a strategic and offensive way in much the same way that military tools are used."
The scope and sophistication revealed in the Peru documents approximates, on a small scale, U.S. and British surveillance programs catalogued in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. That trove showed how the U.S. government collected the phone records of millions of Americans, few suspected of crimes. Even after some reforms, there is still much to be done in the U.S. and abroad to rein in Big Brother, privacy advocates say.
Reached at Verint's corporate headquarters in Melville, New York, an assistant to CEO Dan Bodner said the company would have no comment. "We typically don't comment to reporters," said Barbara Costa.
The AP team is just getting warmed up.